Left Behind (2014) – Film Review

Awkwardly combining religious proselytising with a number of well-worn tropes from the disaster genre. Left Behind, released in 2014, is an apocalyptic thriller with a fascinating idea at its core, depicting the events that would transpire if millions of people suddenly vanished off the face of the Earth. A brilliant concept that is utterly squandered due to its horrendous execution, with subpar production values, bewildering dialogue and appalling performances being just some of the many issues this overtly religious film suffers from. As such, Left Behind presents one of the most unintentionally hilarious depictions of the apocalypse ever committed to film, which more often than not, devolves into enunciated Christian propaganda.

Plot Summary: When millions of people suddenly disappear without a trace, throwing the world into disarray as unmanned vehicles crash, planes fall from the sky and mass riots break out. Airline pilot, Ray Steele, struggles to keep composure aboard his proceeding flight to London as he and his passengers try to comprehend the inexplicable scenario they find themselves within. Meanwhile, Ray’s daughter, Chloe Steele, braves the chaos of the city streets below in search of her mother and brother…

If the Left Behind title sounds familiar, that’s likely because the film is actually a reboot of a relatively well-known series, with Left Behind: The Movie, Left Behind II: Tribulation and Left Behind III: World at War being released prior in 2000, 2002 and 2005, respectively. All of them are based on the best-selling series of apocalyptic novels by Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye; a series that is essentially a modern-day rendition of the biblical rapture, where all Christians are transported to Heaven as divine forces decimate the Earth. 2014’s Left Behind adapts a small portion of the first book in the series, setting the majority of the story aboard an airliner piloted by Ray Steele, which for an apocalyptic thriller, isn’t the most exciting location to view a large-scale catastrophe from.

Speaking of the protagonist, despite the uproarious actor, Nicolas Cage, portraying the central character of Ray Steele. Left Behind never manages to get an entertaining performance out of the actor as for most of the runtime, Cage, who in interviews has stated that he took the role at the urging of his pastor brother, seems practically sedated, even when his character is convinced that the plane is heading towards certain doom. Regrettably, none of the supporting cast are much better, with Chad Michael Murray, Cassi Thomson, Nicky Whelan and Gary Grubbs (among others) all portraying one-dimensional characters continually reciting unnatural dialogue. From the Southern entrepreneur, Dennis Beese, to Cameron ‘Buck’ Williams, a renowned news reporter who inadvertently becomes Ray’s co-pilot, none of the characters throughout Left Behind are indelible or significantly developed outside of their lack of devotion to Christianity.

In regard to the visuals, Left Behind doesn’t exhibit much improvement over its dialogue and performances as the set pieces appear small and chintzy, the lighting is flat, Jack Green’s cinematography is largely styleless and the editing between the drama on-board Ray’s flight and the disorder on the ground below is a monotonous back-and-forth of plot points with no scene being given enough time to sink in. Moreover, the CG effects for the airliner itself are rather poor, particularly during one of the film’s final moments where Ray is forced to land the plane on a makeshift runway.

Likewise, the original score by Jack Lenz has no identity or anything even remotely unique about it, subsequently causing the soundtrack to dissolve into the background where the majority of audience members will forget it even exists. Quite surprising considering that Lenz has proven himself to be a capable composer in the past, penning many respectable scores, including the theme for the Goosebumps television series.

Yet even when overlooking all of Left Behind‘s shortcomings in terms of filmmaking, the film continues to stutter as there are plenty of moments within the film that can be mocked. But by far the easiest scene that illustrates just how uniquely awful Left Behind is would be the moment in which Irene Steele stares adoringly at a terribly photoshopped picture of her family. It is possible, however, that the film’s flawed execution could be a result of a lack of experience on the part of director Vic Armstrong (Joshua TreeA Sunday Horse), as Armstrong is best known for his work as a stunt coordinator/stunt performer rather than a director.

In summary, while Left Behind‘s narrative is undoubtedly an interesting one and could’ve made for a compelling apocalyptic thriller if placed in the hands of the right director and screenwriter. The version of Left Behind we did receive is far from compelling as its flaws are nearly endless, consequently leading the film to be panned by critics and perform poorly at the box office. Still, this wasn’t the end for Left Behind as not long after, the producers of the film decided to finance the sequel through an Indiegogo campaign simply titled: “Help Us Make Left Behind 2.” The campaign received £61,558 out of the half a million asked, with the last update on the project being on May 7th 2015. So, more than likely, the project was cancelled, which I’d say is for the best. Rating: 2/10.

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Bird Box (2018) – Film Review

‘Bird Box’ is based on the novel of the same name by Josh Malerman, which mostly aims to be a dark horror/thriller with an original and twisted story as well as a few other interesting aspects in regards to its filmmaking. Unfortunately however, the film soon falls into a pit of disappointment which it really struggles to escape from, resulting in ‘Bird Box’ becoming nothing more than another generic Netflix fright-fest.

Plot Summary: In the wake of an unknown global terror, a mother must find the strength to flee with her two children down a treacherous river in search of safety. Yet due to the unseen deadly forces pursing them, the perilous journey must be made blind-folded…

As the film jumps back-and-forth between the two different time-periods, the film’s structure can become very frustrating at points. As I personally found the initial chaotic event far more entertaining than the other time-period the film provides, yet this was always cut short as the film continuously cuts between the two at unusual points. The film also chooses to wrap the majority of its story in mystery, never really exploring what the monsters actually are, or how their abilities work. The film even chooses to never actually show the creatures on-screen at all throughout the runtime, and although I agree that not everything has to be explained within a story, the way ‘Bird Box’ presents it makes it noting but frustrating, as the film introduces questions without answers.

Sandra Bullock portrays a struggling mother alongside Danielle Macdonald, Trevante Rhodes and John Malkovich who all portray people attempting to survive in a brutal world, and they do their best considering the weak characters they had to work with. The majority of the supporting cast are also decent, with Sarah Paulson even having a short appearance within the film. However, I actually found she was incredibly wasted in the small (and mostly pointless) role she had within the narrative.

In spite of the film’s many wilderness scenes being shot near the beautiful Smith River in the far north of California. Nearly the entire visual presentation of: ‘Bird Box,’ is extremely dull, as the cinematography by Salvatore Totino and editing Ben Lester never really excel beyond ‘okay.’ Usually having scenes consist of many boring shots which never really add much to the tension or atmosphere aside from the occasional moment, this of course also alongside the extremely bland grey colour palette.

This is also the case when it comes to the original score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, coming off as nothing more than your standard score for any modern horror/thriller with a slight technological twist, which is very surprising, considering these composers did excellent work on the soundtrack for: ‘The Social Network’ back in 2010.

Although the novel obviously came out before last year’s ‘A Quiet Place,’ I also couldn’t help but notice many similarities between the two films. Such as the lack of a certain sense, the apocalyptic setting, a theme of family and the eerie atmosphere/tone (despite the idea of the monsters making you kill yourself being very original). I also couldn’t help but feel the film never made enough use of its concept of simply witnessing the creatures drives characters to suicide, as this is a terrifying idea, and could’ve provided some very gory and truly shocking moments.

In short, ‘Bird Box’ is one of those few films that gets a large amount of attention for reasons I’m not entirely sure of, as personally, I thought the film was nothing but bland and forgettable in many aspects. Aside from perhaps the main performance by Sandra Bullock and the original idea of its story. There wasn’t much I enjoyed about this adaptation, perhaps give it a watch if you’re really interested, but, in my opinion, there are many similar films which explore these same ideas just with a much better execution. Final Rating: 3/10.

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